So, I decided that since two of the year’s biggest pop albums have come out in the last month that they both deserve a review. Yes, it’s very ‘uncool’ but honestly, if for some reason that you feel that an album has no merit or doesn’t deserve people’s time just because it’s a commercial pop album, then I suggest you read this, detailing my thoughts on pop albums (specifically boy-bands). If you still want to challenge me on it afterwards then fight me. The two albums under the microscope are (both albums named after numbers) Taylor Swift’s record-breaking ‘1989’ and One Direction’s latest of their yearly releases ‘Four’.
Taylor Swift – 1989
For Taylor Swift’s fifth album she’s decided to fully embrace the pop sound she flirted with on her last album ‘Red’ and completely ditch her more Country orientated roots. This album is essentially an album that sonically is dedicated to the year she was born ‘1989’. These songs are based around drum machine beats and wishy-washy synths that were found in a lot of the pop music in the late 80s. It never really feels like too much of a homage to it though and she uses these sounds in very clever ways in her songwriting.
Over the last few years Swift has sort of become the pun of many people’s jokes regarding her songs’ subject matters that are often about love stories/breakups/driving in a boy’s car/STUPIDBOYS!!! There’s no surprises in that she’s still singing about these things on this album. This time it seems like she’s tried to flip it on its head slightly and use it to her advantage; the song ‘Blank Space’ is honestly just a bit…creepy (in a good way). The beginning of the song has these synths and keys that really feel ghostly kind of lingering behind this very sparse drumbeat. The melody itself becomes very sadistic in the chorus, she takes on the role of a paranoid, twisted partner. In this song she sounds… strong; and that’s her mantra for this album really. Swift always plays the character who will be bounce back no matter what life throws at her like in the other single on this album ‘Shake It Off’.
Swift’s songwriting on this album rarely dips in quality and even if you can’t relate to her subject matters it’s hard to not admire them. She manages to take on the sound of some of her pop contemporaries on this album such as the song ‘Wildest Dreams’, which has her sounding how Lana Del Ray would sound if she had an interesting bone in her body. Other times her lower register of her vocals sound strangely similar to the likes of Katy Perry like on the opener on here ‘Welcome To New York’. This is arguably the worst song on the album mind you but it still manages to sound remotely interesting compared to a Katy Perry song.
The production on this album really can’t be praised enough and it really feels like Swift had a massive part on how she wanted this album to sound. The mixing and sounds on this album are brilliantly done; she takes standard sounds and organises them in ways that are highly inventive like the way the drum beats sometimes will thud along in a particularly strange way or a synth line may stand out and hit you. Whether you’re a fan of the old Taylor Swift or not even a fan at all, this is a pop album that could genuinely restore your faith in the genre that generally gets bad press. It’s an album that feels very inspired and like she’s taken the time to really craft it. Taylor Swift as a fully pledged pop star may be what the world needs.
One Direction – Four
It’s November which means it’s that time again; One Direction have released their yearly production. Before I get into any sort of critique on this album I have to point out once again. I am NOT just a ‘hater’, and I once again insist you read this link. I admire One Direction for the way that they have captured the hearts of millions of girls and boys across the world through some great pop songwriting (regardless of whether they wrote it or not) that don’t just focus on sex and are genuinely fun to listen to. Something that pop has been missing for a long while and they have filled the void brilliantly.
This being said, on their new album “The Boys” have had control over the songwriting process more than any of their previous albums. I genuinely think this album suffers from it. Picture yourself in these guys position; the last four years have been NON-STOP moving. If they’re not recording they’re touring, and if they’re not touring, they’re either back in the studio or posing for pictures or something. There’s no wonder that this album feels uninspired, and it really does feel uninspired, right down to the album cover. This album feels like they’ve tried to make a ‘grown up record’ and instead forgot what made them so admirable to begin with. This album really lacks the melodies that would be stuck in your head for WEEKS and you’d be too scared to admit you liked it. They’ve traded in a lot of these moments for an album that has way more ballads than their older stuff.
But what’s wrong with ballads right? They can still be great can’t they? Well yeah, but when they feel inspired. Their ballads succeeded before in that they were performed with genuine passion and the songwriting stood for itself. Even though they are sung very well on here the ballads like ‘Ready To Run’ feel like ‘Story Of My Life’ demos right down to the generic acoustic guitar playing. It’s not just the ballads that fail on here either. In a search for some influence or inspiration the guys decided to make a song called ‘Change Your Ticket’ that sounds UNCANNILY like The 1975, right down to the chord progression and the percussion. I don’t know who’s responsible for this but this would be the fourth time the band have been accused of ripping off someone else’s sound. The worst thing is, that this made me come to the realization that The 1975 (a band who aren’t really that pop) are making pop music more memorable than One Direction.
This album isn’t all bad though; as you can expect the production is top-notch and the songs are capably sung. There are some moments of their old charm every now and again like the song ‘Clouds’ which has them sounding the most rock n roll they ever have. An album full of these moments would have been so much more appreciated because at the end of the day it’s where ‘Midnight Memories’ excelled.